Hanlin' the Pressure
Nov. 1, 2001
by Bri Niemi
December 25, 1987, was a decisive day in the life of Matt Hanlin. Underneath the tree that holiday was a shiny present that would change things forever for this future tennis star.
'When I was about eight years old, I got a metal tennis racket for Christmas,' remembers Hanlin, now a junior at Washington. 'I started bashing the ball up against the wall, and when I wore out that wall my Dad decided to take me down to his local sports club to get lessons from one of his friends. I enjoyed the game from the start, picked it up fairly quickly, and became really competitive. I started winning a few tournaments and I thought, why not give it my all over the next few years?'
Giving it his all included leaving his home in Birmingham, England and crossing the Atlantic Ocean to the elite Bollettieri Academy in Florida when he was just 13 years old.
'There were about 250 students in the academy when I was there,' says Hanlin. 'It was a great experience and a great environment for me because I got to hit with some of the professional players and I learned a lot from them. I enjoyed the game so much that it blinded any homesickness that I had.'
Hannlin's trek from England would not end there. Former Washington tennis player Mark Woolley, also from Birmingham, suggested that Matt come cross-country to one of the premier tennis schools in the Pac-10. Thus, upon graduating from Bradenton High School, Hanlin became a Husky.
'Mark strongly recommended coming to Washington,' Hanlin says. 'He got me in touch with head coach Matt Anger and when I heard about the type of coach he was and the record he had, it really impressed me. I didn't need to come on a recruiting trip, I just signed.'
Hanlin was an immediate - and successful - contributor his freshman season. He played in both the No.1 and No. 2 positions and posted an overall record of 26-13, including six wins over ranked opponents. However, the transition from the tennis academy in Florida to team competition in college was much different than he expected.
'I'm a very competitive guy. Coming from the academy, you fend for yourself and you are always trying to get ahead of people,' Hanlin says. 'The team atmosphere was a little bit different for me at first, but it is nice to have people on your side supporting you day in and day out. I wasn't used to people commending me during practice, and having to commend them back. But now I completely enjoy it.'
Hanlin's sophomore season was much of the same. Competing again in the top position, he recorded 27 wins and garnered All-America honors. One of his best wins came at home during the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships. With the score tied 3-3, Hanlin defeated No. 6 Matias Boeker in two sets, both of which came down to a tiebreaker, to secure the upset over Georgia and ignite an incredible Husky season that ended in the NCAA Sweet 16.
'That was the best moment of my college career thus far,' Hanlin says. 'I couldn't have asked for a better situation to be in. I was up in the second set and I let it slip, but luckily I came through that. I was a little bit nervous, but the nerves make it that much more exciting and memorable.'
Hanlin now faces the daunting challenge of being the most experienced player on a young team that needs guidance and support in order to make it back into NCAA contention.
'Jeremy Berman was our leader last year,' says Hanlin. 'He was very outspoken and he could show his leadership vocally, as well as on the court. I am a little quieter than he is and my goal is to show leadership more through my play and work ethic.'
Working hard is something that Matt Hanlin had destined for him strictly through the gene pool. The opportunities he has received are in part due to his parents, Alan and Lorraine Hanlin.
'I am thankful for both of my parents everyday. They are very supportive and are always backing me up,' he says. 'I look up to my dad a lot because whatever work ethic I have, I got it from him. He is almost a workaholic, but he knows how to have fun on the weekends.'
As the Huskies begin preparing for the 2002 season, they will be relying on the leadership of Matt Hanlin both on and off the court.
They have a fateful Christmas Day to thank.